We are artists and technicians. We are not lawyers, and this is not legal advice. Consider this an icebreaker for a conversation about copyright issues.

In the United States, intellectual property is considered to belong to the public, for the use of the public. The primary exception to this is the exception of copyright. Copyright is not ownership of content, but it is a limited window of time during which the copyright holder is given a monopoly for publishing the content.

The concept of Copyright originated with the printing press, but has grown to cover nearly every conceivable expression of ideas, including sound recordings, software, architecture and photos.

As web designers and hosts, we create and publish content on dozens of sites every day. That content falls into three categories:

  1. Content that we create
  2. Content provided to us by website owners
  3. Other content that we know to be safe/legal to publish

I will address these three categories in order.

1. Content that we create

This would seem to be the simplest category, but that is not always the case. Some content that we create is “work for hire,” meaning that we create it for our client, and our client holds the copyright. Examples might include logo design, and promotional copy in brochures and web pages. In these cases, a client is free to re-use this content in any way they see fit. In other cases, InsideOut Solutions may retain the copyright. Examples might include structural components of a website, like code snippets to create an animated menu or slide show. We retain the right to re-use code components for multiple clients, which significantly reduces the development cost.

2. Content provided to us by website owners

When we first design a site for a client, we ask that all submitted material be cleared for copyright. And if we see anything that appears to be a copyright infringement, we bring it to a client’s attention. But in general, it is a client’s responsibility to make sure that they hold copyright on all material they submit for their site.

3. Content from safe sources

Safe sources include content in the public domain (e.g. content from government agencies), media from stock houses (e.g. royalty-free audio, stock photos), embedded media (e.g. videos from YouTube, slideshows from Flickr).

Danger Zones

  1. Photos with recognizable people: Even if you own the copyright on the photo, you may need a model clearance signed by identifiable individuals in the photo.
  2. Maps are usually the property of the creator, do not assume it is yours to use on print if developed for web or anywhere else. Never remove the copyright mark from a map, it will really cost you.
  3. Music: Unless you wrote it and recorded it, it’s probably illegal to use it on your website or video.
  4. Corporate products/logos: A possible problem, unless they provided the logo for you to use as a link to their website.

Absolute No-nos

  1. Deep Linking: Using an image from someone else’s site by linking to their server (Flickr and other photo sharing tools are an exception).
  2. Photo Grabbing: Taking a photo from somewhere else and adding it to your own site (almost always problematic — even if the other site’s webmaster says it’s OK).
  3. Copy/Paste of text: It was cheating in high school, and it’s cheating on the web. Plus, you’re almost certain to get caught if you’re grabbing text verbatim. Even if you’re not “caught,” the search engines frown on identical content. You’re better off re-writing it, or paraphrasing, and linking to the original source.

When in doubt, if you didn’t create it, don’t use it. There is no shortage of high quality material that is free or cheap, and available for your website.